Like much of the public, we are underwhelmed by the allegations levied against former Basalt Police Chief Roderick O’Connor, who apparently frustrated one employee enough to spur an investigation into his conduct.
Yet, despite that the investigation into O’Connor by an outside human resources agency that cost taxpayers nearly $10,000 turned up nothing that warranted his termination, the town government allowed him to walk away with an $84,000 severance package.
We acknowledge that O’Connor could not have returned to the hostile environment that had been festering within the police department. We also acknowledge, as did the report by Mountain States Employers Council, that O’Connor was less than a perfect manager, as demonstrated by the comments of five current employees and one former one.
Like many managers are, O’Connor was accused of micro-managing, talking condescendingly to employees, not using his time well and not appreciating his employees to their liking. The bottom line was that the rank and file felt disrespected by O’Connor.
Once the investigation was launched, O’Connor was placed on leave. He resigned on Nov. 23 after he struck a deal with town officials that included a sweet severance package and a promise that the report would not be made public. Keeping the report under wraps was an irresponsible move by the town, since taxpayer dollars are involved and rampant dysfunction within the community’s police department was evident.
There are lessons to be learned here, and we’re glad that the Basalt town government recognizes that it needs to correct its course for future personnel disputes.
This management-style dispute should have been mediated by the town manager, not kicked to an outside agency. Whether it’s a private business or government agency, employees don’t always like their managers, and managers often deal with their people differently based on personalities and performance. If an employee doesn’t like it, they should deal directly with management for a resolution, or quit themselves.
The situation in Basalt should never have resulted in a secret report that, at best, outlines a series of petty management differences, and a bill costing the taxpayers almost $100,000, including the unnecessary severance package.
We are sorry that Sgt. Penny Paxton felt she was being treated differently, but based on the findings in the report, O’Connor’s conduct did not rise to the level that warranted this brouhaha. It’s too bad that she, or any of the other employees, didn’t feel comfortable going directly to O’Connor to deal with the perceived unfairness head-on. And it’s unfortunate that O’Connor didn’t himself realize that he had upset employees, most of whom backed Paxton in the report detailing her grievances.
Paxton filed a formal complaint in September, curiously during the time Town Manager Bill Kane was on his way out the door and his successor was not in place, leaving no go-to person within the Basalt government to mediate the situation or provide conflict resolution.
As a default, finance director Judi Tippetts, was left with the complaint. She shouldn’t have taken it to Mountain States. She should have waited to let the new town manager decide whether to discipline O’Connor, which is within his discretion, or she should have begun a conflict resolution process.
It should have been left up to Mike Scanlon, the new town manager, to mediate it in-house or send it to an outside agency.
The contents of the 46-page report and 86 pages of supporting documents trouble us since most of it is based on hearsay; Paxton’s co-worker Sgt. Stu Curry repeatedly made statements about conversations he had with O’Connor about her to her.
There is no way to know exactly what those conversations were, since memory, subjective reasoning and personal motivations come into play. Yet, that hearsay is the basis for much of the investigator’s conclusions, which say that O’Connor didn’t do anything wrong except maybe being a weak manager.
We implore the town to change its procedures on personnel matters so this type of circus doesn’t occur again. We agree with Scanlon, who unfortunately was handed this mess when he arrived in Basalt at the end of October, that reforms are needed. Annual reviews must occur so this kind of dissension among the ranks is known early on and an effort toward resolution can take place.
And the fact that the town refused to release the report to the public, in what we believe to be an effort to avoid outing or embarrassing police department employees, did nothing but erode confidence in the government, which should be as transparent as possible, especially when the disputes turn out to be as petty as these were. These are taxpayer dollars, after all, that are at stake.